Santa Ana Council Members Might Move to Oust City Manager

Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

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Elections matter. And it’s looking like last month’s results might matter a lot to Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos’ job security.

Sources close to City Hall say an item on Tuesday’s City Council agenda represents an effort by new members of the council, who were supported by the police union, to oust Cavazos and Police Chief Carlos Rojas.

The closed-session item calls for performance evaluations for Cavazos, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho and City Clerk Maria Huizar.

By the time the council returns from the closed session, Cavazos could be on indefinite paid leave – or not.

Behind the scenes, Mayor Miguel Pulido opposed the hiring of Cavazos in 2013, and has been at odds with him ever since. Meanwhile, the city’s police union has openly clashed with Cavazos, the current council majority, and police Chief Carlos Rojas.

Word is Pulido, along with newly elected (and police-union backed) council members Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas, are preparing to make a move on Cavazos. At the same time, councilmen David Benavides, Sal Tinajero and Vincente Sarmiento have indicated they want to keep the city manager.

The reported swing vote is none other than Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who has feuded with Cavazos ever since he accused her of sexual harassment. A city-funded investigation found in June that his accusations had no merit.

Even if Martinez joins a vote against Cavazos, he would likely stay on the city’s payroll for the time being. While it takes a simple majority of four votes to put Cavazos on paid leave, it would take five votes to terminate him.

Martinez didn’t return a phone message Monday afternoon seeking comment.

The police union argued throughout the election season that the council majority has turned a blind eye to an officer shortage while Santa Ana’s violent crime rate grew by nearly 50 percent in recent years.

One of the police-union funded campaign mailers criticized council majority members for paying Cavazos an “outrageous” sum of $469,000 a year that could instead be spent on adding patrol officers and other services. The mailer then called on Santa Ana voters to “fire” the council majority members who were running for re-election.

Members of the council majority disputed the union’s claims and said its true motivation was to take control of the city government by electing council members who would be willing to fire Cavazos and Rojas.

Benavides said Monday that the timing of the evaluation – which Villegas requested soon after being sworn in last week – smacks of returning a political favor to the union.

“I’m concerned that members of the City Council, especially new members of the City Council, would try to evaluate somebody that they have not worked with,” Benavides said.

“That clearly gives the appearance that they’re simply paying back a debt to the police union, and playing politics with the future of our city and our residents’ quality of life. It’s concerning to me.”

Villegas didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Meanwhile, the police union’s president criticized Benavides’ remarks.

“I think it’s very unprofessional for people to make those accusations,” said Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers’ Association.

Serrano disputed assertions that his union is behind the agenda item.

“I am not aware of the city manager being placed on administrative leave,” Serrano said. “If any such action is taken, clearly it would be based on articulated facts and on his performance; nothing else…it is not our direction, involvement or issue.”

Cavazos, for his part, declined an interview request, but said he had spoken with Villegas about the item.

“I did speak with Councilmember Villegas, and he explained to me his rationale for putting my evaluation on the agenda,” Cavazos said in a voicemail message to a Voice of OC reporter.  “And that was a very, very good explanation, and I’m satisfied with it of course.”

And that’s all I’ve got to say. And I look forward to working with the council on building [on] our successes.”

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 5 p.m., when the City Council will convene and take public comment before going into closed session on the city manager’s evaluation.

In addition to the city manager’s evaluation, council members are scheduled to decide on several other key issues:

A previous version of this story misstated the name of Councilman Juan Villegas. We regret the error. 

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    If a City does not do right by its community neighborhoods, it will then stress, oppress, depress, regress them with a Police State. Neighbors should help neighbors not neighbors lynching neighbors. Cities should empower this and not use neighborhoods just to justify cash for the few in city hall by paperwork generated. Not sustainable. Bad karma. Get it together and do right for the People, not lobbyists, you serve.

  • Judy Allen

    PAID LEAVE?????? What good is that? He’ll be resting at home on OUR tax dollars!

  • loudchapina

    The new councilman is named Juan. Not all Latinos are named Jose!

  • Antonio Montana

    It is no secret that there are a large contingent of citizens in Santa Ana (and let’s not forget Phoenix) who hate the fact that David Cavasos is being paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars to do a job where he should be making about half as much as he currently is. And the city council approves $15,000 bonuses like they are Lil Wayne making it rain in a strip club. It is also no secret that the city budget’s biggest chunk (like every other city) goes to police salaries. Cavasos and Napoleon Rojas worked together to create a huge savings of funds by obliterating staffing levels on the streets. That problem was compounded by the fact that coloring book cry room liberals (like the former city council) in our great state also passed ridiculous proposition 47 (and now 57) and released tens of thousands of prison inmates who have no business on the streets; which ironically is where the vast majority ended up. Those staffing levels and increase in crooks on the streets created a mess that resulted in a huge spike in violent crime within Santa Ana’s impoverished barrios. I would argue the city is/was lucky not to be bankrupted by lawsuits filed by homicide victims families based on the abysmal staffing levels alone. Not to mention the fact that the media has reported at least 2 incidents this year involving Santa Ana cops being shot or shot at by gang members. Given the staffing crisis on the streets and the actions of the emboldened criminal element in Obama’s America, I would want the city manager and police chief removed as well if I was one of those cops. Then again, I doubt David Cavasos minds if he gets to stay home in his MacArthur tower apartment funded by the city while on paid leave. Must be a rough life to live up there and bang whatever subordinate employee you want without any reprocussion or consequence…all while getting paid like a pro athlete and having the chief of police in your shirt pocket (almost literally possible).

    • kennyb the unassuming Blk/Male

      How can I forget Phoenix. I am a retired Motorcycle cop with 33 years of service. I saw what Cavasos did here. I think he has a pic of some people sleeping with goats.